Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Ford Sterling

On His Wedding Day (1913)

Ford Sterling stars in this short comedy from Keystone before a certain gentleman with a cane and bowler hat showed up on the lot. It’s pretty typical of both Sterling and director Mack Sennett at the time.

Is everyone allergic to these flowers?

The movie begins by showing us the bride’s family at the church. The bride (Dot Farley) is cross-eyed and made up to look somewhat homely, foreshadowing what may come later. An intertitle tells us “Red Pepper” and we see a grocery clerk using said herb to make a friend sneeze. Now Sterling marches up in his wedding finery, carrying a bouquet of flowers, and the clerk sprinkles it with his pepper. Ford arrives at the church and unknowingly presents it to the bride and the minister (Hale Studebaker), who begin sneezing uncontrollably. The preacher, in search of fresh air, runs out of the church and into a park, and Sterling pursues, but is distracted when he comes across Mabel Normand and her boyfriend (Charles Avery). Ford quickly gets the idea of trading up, but before hitting on Mabel, he sends the parson back to the church. He easily shoves the smaller Avery out of the way and strikes up a conversation with Mabel. Avery locates a couple of local bums and pays them to beat up Sterling for him. While they are about it, he hastens back over to Mabel. Meanwhile, the wedding party is calling out for Sterling, but the thugs have stolen his clothes. Sterling is now running about in his long underwear, shocking Mabel and a passing woman. Mabel slugs Avery and goes her own way, but Sterling is now pursued by a police officer in a comic chase that soon draws in other cops and passersby. Trying to evade the police, Sterling climbs onto the roof of the church and drops through the chimney, now in no way presentable for his wedding. The movie devolves into a typical Keystone riot as the bride defends her groom by taking a cop’s billy club and bashing the whole crowd. They embrace at the end, so I guess it’s a happy ending, though they’re not married.

A sure way to impress a girl.

This was a cheaply done film with minimal plot and plenty of comic action, so quite what one expects from the Keystone studios at the time. Ford Sterling and Mabel Normand were two of the biggest stars at the lot, though this is pretty much Ford’s film. Given the persistent rumors that Mabel and Mack Sennett were dating at the time, I got a giggle out of the intertitle comparing her to “a goddess.” She does look decidedly better than cross-eyed Dot, and both girls get a chance to hit the men in the course of the slapstick silliness. There is a certain amount of inter-cutting between the wedding party and Ford’s attempted philandering, possibly Sennett showing off a technique he learned while working for D.W. Griffith, although it doesn’t really help the comedy much. A good example of Sennett’s pre-Chaplin work, there are no surprises or outstanding accomplishments here.

Director: Mack Sennett

Camera: unknown

Starring: Ford Sterling, Mabel Normand, Dot Farley, Charles Avery, Hale Studebaker, Nick Cogley, Helen Holmes

Run Time: 6 Min, 26 secs

You can watch part of it for free: here (no music). I have not found available complete for free streaming. If you do, please comment.

A Grocery Clerk’s Romance (1912)

This early short from Mack Sennett was shot in Fort Lee, New Jersey, before he moved his new Keystone Company out to California. Not surprisingly, it is a slapstick comedy, full of violence and illogic, but with only one Kop this outing.

The movie begins by establishing a simple love triangle. James C. Morton is the “lazy husband” of a plain-looking, middle-aged (uncredited) woman. Ford Sterling is the next-door neighbor (presumably a grocery clerk, though we never see him at his duties) who likes to come over and help with her chores. Oblivious to this domestic drama, Morton heads over to a local bar to get drunk, giving him and pal Gus Pixley the opportunity to do some pratfalls. Meanwhile, Sterling has put on an apron and is amusing the wife as he hangs the laundry, camping for her as he goes. The husband now stumbles home and gets into it with Ford, who drives him off easily. When he tries to return to the bar, he is denied admittance by the local sheriff (Lincoln Plumer), who indicates that he’s had enough, so he staggers into the woods, where, as it happens, a group of foreign-looking anarchists are meeting and showing off their new bomb to each other. They immediately forget about whatever plans they had for the bomb when they discover the “spy” in the woods, and tie up Morton, lighting the fuse.

At this moment, Morton’s child, whose job up to now has been to follow him around sniffling and occasionally tugging on his sleeve, finds her father in dire straits. He tells her to run and get help, meanwhile continuing to struggle with his bonds. She dutifully runs back to mama, who faints dead away at the news. A glint comes into Sterling’s eye as he calculates “in five minutes, she’ll be a widow!” He grabs the screaming child and stashes her in the cellar. He takes out his pocketwatch and counts off the precious seconds. When he feels enough time has passed, he releases the child and wakes the woman; now he starts running through the streets to gather a crowd to come and “help” too late. Unbeknownst to him, of course, the husband has already freed himself. So, when the mob hears an explosion in the trees, and then they run up and find the husband’s hat and coat at the bomb site, they assume the worst, and so does Sterling. He very quickly proposes to the “widow,” who gladly accepts and they prepare a wedding ceremony almost instantly, everyone turning out in their finery. Morton, of course, goes back to the bar where his surprised friend tells him his wife is being married at that very moment. They rush over to interrupt the ceremony and the child finally fingers Sterling as the reason the rescue party arrived late. Ford runs off in disgrace, and Morton takes his wife in an embrace. She doesn’t look entirely pleased.

It’s odd to see Sterling without his usual makeup in this film – I actually thought it was Sennett himself at first – but his trademark over-the-top facial expressions are very much on display. The movie didn’t make me laugh, though it did get a couple of guffaws from me near the end (about par for the course for a Mack Sennett, actually). Overall, the structure of the movie reminds me of “A Muddy Romance,” “The Gusher,” and other movies Sennett would later make with Chaplin and/or Sterling and Mabel Normand. This might be seen as the template for those later films, with Sennett always ready to improvise when something interesting happens like an oil fire or a drained lake. In that sense, it’s a rare historical relic, if not exactly classic slapstick.

Director: Mack Sennett

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Ford Sterling, James C. Morton, Gus Pixley, Lincoln Plumer

Run Time: 7 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

That Little Band of Gold (1915)

This Keystone comedy goes in different directions to the more standard “park comedies” I’ve been reviewing recently, and is generally a stronger example of “situational” rather than “slapstick” comedy. This time, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle is married to Mabel Normand, but will his philandering and her demanding mother-in-law destroy the relationship?

That_Little_Band_of_Gold_1915Our story begins with Fatty and Mabel in the back seat of a large, well-appointed automobile (no lowly farm couple in this outing!). Fatty produces a ring and Mabel expresses joy: we see that they are happy together and on the road to marriage. We next see them entering the courthouse, and wedded inside, in front of witnesses. Soon, the scene shifts to their state of domestic bliss – sort of. Mabel sits in front of a mirror weeping as Fatty stumbles home drunk, and presumably late). Her mother (Alice Davenport) is there, and expresses her disapproval in the strongest possible terms (jabbing Fatty in the gut with his cane, for example). Fatty makes a pass at the maid in her view, which does nothing to improve her temper. Fatty reluctantly puts on evening clothes and joins the two of them to drive to the opera. In the car, mother-in-law objects to Fatty’s smoking a cigar, which only heightens tensions. Meanwhile, Ford Sterling arrives at the opera with his wife and “a friend,” a young woman whose dress shows a lot of her arms for 1915 (May Emory). As they settle into their box, she attracts a good deal of attention from the male members of the audience, and Ford keeps trying to look down her dress. When Fatty’s party arrives, he resists entering the opera, but finally concedes, and they take to booth opposite from Ford’s party.

That Little Band of GoldDuring the show, Fatty consistently displays his disinterest in the opera, and Ford continually displays his interest in the young woman. They notice each other not watching the opera and signal to each other, Ford trying to do so without his wife observing, and Fatty without alerting his mother in law. Finally, they arrange to meet in the lobby, Fatty leaving Mabel and Alice behind, and Ford bringing both of his women companions. Ford’s plan (we mostly figure this out from body language) had been for Fatty to entertain his wife so that he would have a chance to sneak off with the floozy, but it doesn’t quite work out that way. Ford and Fatty go through a show of recognizing one another, and making introductions, and instantly the floozy gravitates to him, the wife barely noticing. Fatty and May go out to a neighboring restaurant together, and Ford drags his wife along as well. He keeps trying to get back with the young woman, but both she and Fatty consistently prevent it. Finally, Ford loses patience and goes to use the telephone. He calls the opera and pages Fatty’s wife, telling her that he is at dinner with “a strange woman.” Mabel and her mother head over and catch Fatty, and Mabel bursts into tears. Fatty figures out what has happened and breaks a bottle over Ford’s head, resulting in everyone getting thrown out. The next scene shows Fatty and Mabel’s reluctant divorce, urged on by Alice and the judge. They meet again outside the courthouse, sweetly make up, and go back inside to get married.

That Little Band of Gold1While hardly devoid of violence, this is a less “slapstick” movie than we’re used to from Arbuckle, and it deals with somewhat more grown-up subject matter, including the concept of divorce. Divorce was already a part of the Hollywood tradition, but it was largely unspoken and not treated in screenplays except as a social evil. The happy ending here prevents it from being too serious, and in fact I hoped that Fatty and Mabel will end up all right – their chemistry always seems to suggest that they should be a couple, even in movies that separate them – but this movie does take us right up to the edge of the unthinkable. It’s interesting to note the implication that marital troubles can all be laid at the feet of the nagging mother in law, never mind the fact that Fatty definitely behaved inappropriately on several occasions here.

That Little Band of Gold2I quite enjoyed Ford Sterling’s performance as the hopeful masher. He was not known for his subtlety, but in the right role his over-the-top facial expressions and body language can be hilarious. There’s also some interesting parallels with Chaplin’s “A Night in the Show,” which also involves shenanigans in a public theater, although Chaplin brought his own unique style to that film. This movie avoids toppling over into the riotous mayhem we might expect, particularly from a Keystone production, whereas “A Night in the Show” pulls out all the stops. Arbuckle and company seem to have been out to prove they could be funny without doing a giant chase scene or fight at the end, and even sneak in some sympathy with the happy ending.

Director: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle

Camera: Unknown

Cast: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Mabel Normand, Ford Sterling, Alice Davenport, most of the Keystone company in audience.

Run Time: 25 Min

You can watch it for free: here (no music) or here (with inappropriate organ music).

A Muddy Romance (1913)

Muddy Romance4

One off the most famous Keystone romps includes Mabel Normand and Ford Sterling, a whole bunch of Keystone Cops, and a curiously muddy dry lake. This may not be high art, but it brought butts into seats at the Nickelodeons, and remains a great example of the comedy factory’s style and initiative.

Muddy RomanceThe movie begins with Ford and Mabel as next door neighbors with a friendly flirtation going on. All seems well until rival Charles Inslee shows up and charms, first, Mabel’s mother (Minta Durfee) and then Mabel herself. Inslee gets the better of Sterling, first by pouring milk over him and then tricking him into hitting Mabel in the face with a pie. Now, the couple take up arms (er, bricks, anyway), and begin pelting Ford wildly. Sterling puts on a brave defense, but ultimately he’s overwhelmed by their superior numbers and runs back into his house. Mabel and Charles hijack a passing preacher so they can elope, but Sterling pursues them and fires a gun at the rowboat they take out onto the lake to escape him. Unable to hit at that range, Ford comes up with another plan – he’ll turn the convenient crank that drains the lake! He does, and suddenly the rowboat, plus a boat full of Keystone Cops who had heard the shooting and were coming to arrest him, are stuck in the mud. Now someone calls in a squad of “water police” (more Keystone Cops), who are able to drag the stranded unfortunates back to land by use of a javelin-throwing cannon. Sterling is discovered by the parks attendant and dragged away from the crank before he can cause any more mischief. That’s where the “Slapstick Encyclopedia” version ends, but rumor has it an alternate ending exists with Sterling committing comic suicide.

Muddy Romance1The “story” behind this production is that Mack Sennett found out that the lake in Echo Park was due to be drained, and piled a cast and crew into cars to run down there without any kind of script, but with plenty of cop costumes on hand. It’s used as an example both of the lack of planning and arbitrariness of filmmaking at Keystone Studios, but also of the genius Sennett had for improvising with whatever was at hand and saving money by shooting around real-world events. See “Kid Auto Races” and “The Gusher” for similar examples. However you see it, it is both fun and unpredictably goofy, but probably not to everyone’s taste.

Muddy Romance2The same can probably be said about the comedic star/villain, Ford Sterling. According to Charlie Chaplin, when he first arrived on the set at Keystone, he was struck by the fact that all through shooting, Ford Sterling would keep the cast and crew in stitches with a running dialogue in his fake Dutch accent. What was the point, when the audience would never hear it? This is a movie where you can sort of see that happening. Sterling’s lips are in constant motion, and he seems to be rolling his r’s and otherwise being funny with his speech, although I’m no lip reader, so I won’t claim to know for sure. He doesn’t forget the movie audience, though. When he needs to communicate what he’s saying, he pantomimes with his hands or makes appropriate facial expressions so that you can follow his meaning. I suspect that he kept his line of jokes going because he felt it lightened the atmosphere on set (making a movie can be a lot of hard work, especially when so little is planned in advance) and in the hopes of inspiring his fellow comedians to “think funny.” It’s shame we can’t hear them, though, because I bet he’s as funny with his voice as without it.

Muddy Romance3Director: Mack Sennett

Camera: Unknown

Cast: Mabel Normand, Ford Sterling, Charles Inslee, Minta Durfee, Mack Swain

Run Time: 11 Min

You can watch it for free: here (no music) or here (with music).

Barney Oldfield’s Race for a Life (1913)

Barney Oldfields Race for Life3

One of the thinnest plotlines in history seems to have introduced one of the most lasting impressions about silent film. This Keystone short has been cited time and again to support a premise that drives silent movie fans up the wall.

Barney Oldfields Race for LifeThis movie begins with Mack Sennett in the same bumpkin costume that he later used in “Mabel’s Dramatic Career.” He gives Mabel Normand a flower and they shyly smooch under a tree. This all seems to make villainous Ford Sterling inexplicably mad, and as soon as he can get Mabel alone, he tries to steal a kiss, which is rebuffed. He only gets angrier, and calls in his two goons to grab Mabel and drag her off to the railroad tracks, where they find chain and fasten her to the tracks with a railroad spike. Then, they take the convenient handcar to the nearest station and commandeer an engine (apparently just waiting for a train to do the job for them wasn’t good enough).

Barney: No actor, but boy can he drive!

Barney: No actor, but boy can he drive!

Ford gets angry with one of his associates when he asks to be paid and knocks him out. When the goon wakes up, he tells the railroad workers what’s going on and they inform Mack. Then, world-renowned racecar driver Barney Oldfield drives up and Mack informs him of Mabel’s peril. And the race is on! The car and the train speed toward the same location, but Oldfield’s expert driving assures the Mack will be able to rescue the damsel just in time. Meanwhile, a group of five policemen have taken the handcar to try to apprehend Sterling. Sterling, foiled by his inability to kill Mabel, takes out his gun and shoots all five. He tries to kill himself, but he’s out of bullets, so resorts to strangling himself to death (!).

Barney Oldfields Race for Life1This movie is a patently thin veneer hung over a thrilling chase and a lot of silly satire. Ford Sterling takes his mustache-twirling villain role to unheard-of extremes, climaxing with his own bizarre suicide when thwarted. When he so easily kills the five policemen, the question is immediately raised why he didn’t just shoot Mabel in the first place when she refused him a kiss, but that wouldn’t make for a thrilling movie, just a psychotic act of violence. Trying to crush her with a steam engine is clearly more cinematic. The chase itself includes some impressive photography for 1913, including tracking shots from the hand car, the engine, and the car, as well as from other vehicles just in front of or beside them. The shot where Sennett pulls Mabel off the tracks just in the nick of time appears to have been a double-exposure, and on the print I’ve seen it looks very dark and high-contrast, suggesting that the cinematographers couldn’t manage it with the finesse of Georges Méliès. Oldfield seems to have no interest in even trying to act, his only job is to drive a fast car, and he does that fine, letting Sennett do all the emoting. I suppose the five guys who get shot are technically “Keystone Cops” (they’re men in police uniforms in a Keystone movie), but they don’t do any of the characteristic antics one associates with that name.

Barney Oldfields Race for Life2Although Fritzi at Movies Silently has already covered this in detail, I need to say a few words about the girl-tied-to-the-railroad-tracks thing. Yes, this is a silent movie in which it did happen. No, it wasn’t all that common of a theme. Apparently, it was a trope in Victorian Theater, because you could build suspense by having off-stage train whistles without having to actually show a train. Whatever the case, this example is clearly satire – the situation is outrageous on purpose and being played up as ridiculous, as Sterling’s performance emphasizes. It wasn’t something silent audiences wanted or thought of as serious drama. I found it sort of a disappointing role for Mabel Normand (after all I said about her NOT being a “damsel”), she sort of sits there and weeps instead of taking charge of the situation, but it was hardly representative of her career, either. I’d say this movie doesn’t hold up that well, and isn’t even of great historical interest, inasmuch as it seems to lead people to false conclusions.

Wikipedia calls this a "screen shot" from the movie. I think it's actually a publicity still, judging by the posed look of the actors.

Wikipedia calls this a “screen shot” from the movie. I think it’s actually a publicity still, judging by the posed look of the actors.

Director: Mack Sennett

Camera: Lee Bartholomew and Walter Wright

Cast: Mabel Normand, Mack Sennett, Ford Sterling, Barney Oldfield, Al St. John, Hank Mann

Run Time: 13 Min, 30 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

Mabel’s Dramatic Career (1913)

Mack Sennett combines several older comedic tropes in this film to produce a rollicking, and, I would say, unusually sophisticated comedy short for Keystone.

Mabels Dramatic Career1Mack himself plays the bumpkin star of the movie. He is in love with the maid (Mabel Normand) his mother (Alice Davenport) has hired as help in their rural homestead, and he gives her a ring. Mother does not approve, and lets him know when she catches them together, and she chases Mabel off to her work in the kitchen. Then, a classy “girl from the city” (Virginia Kirtley) comes to visit (it’s never clear what relationship she has to the family, or why she’s staying with them). Mack suddenly shows more interest in her, to mother’s approval and Mabel’s horror. Mack asks for his ring back and Mabel takes out her anger on the interloper, resulting in her being fired. She heads for the city, to begin her life anew. Once that’s all settled, Mack asks the girl from the city for her hand, and she laughs at him. He looks longingly at a picture of Mabel, finally aware of what he’s lost.

Mabels Dramatic Career2In the city, Mabel happens upon a “Kinome-tograph” studio, where Ford Sterling is strangling a girl on a bed for the camera. Mabel tries to get a job. The producer and director don’t think much of her pantomime skills, but Ford seems interested. He convinces them to hire her. Now, an intertitle tells us that some years have passed, and Mack’s bumpkin character is paying a visit to the city. He passes by a Nickelodeon, and sees Mabel’s picture on a poster. He decides to pay a nickel and go inside. He watches the movie, and becomes increasingly excited when Mabel appears on the screen! The man sitting next to him (Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle), tries to calm him down, but he doesn’t quite seem to understand the difference between film and reality. This becomes critical when Ford Sterling, in the role of a bad guy, threatens Mabel and does begins to strangle her. Mack pull out his gun and starts shooting at the screen, dispersing the audience, as well as the projectionist and piano player.

Mabels Dramatic Career3Now, Mack is out for revenge: “That villain must die.” He goes in search of the man he saw on the screen, and happens to peek in a window and find his apartment. But, there are three small children there! Then, Mabel comes out and kisses Ford. Evidently they are married and happy together. Mack, unsure what to do, points his gun anyway, but an upstairs neighbor prevents tragedy by dumping out the dirty dishwater on his head.

Mabels Dramatic Career4I love any movie from this period that shows us the interior of a Nickelodeon. This one has a lot in common, visually, with “Those Awful Hats,” which Mack Sennett appeared in for Biograph a few years earlier. But, the bumpkin-in-a-theater trope goes back further, to Edison films from the early twentieth century. By 1902, we had “Uncle Josh at the Moving Picture Show,” in which a yokel from the sticks confuses images on the screen with reality, and that is what Sennett is playing on here, only with a much more complex storyline and better characterization. It also resembles the 1913 film by  Louis FeuilladeTragic Error,” only with the tragedy averted. This Nickelodeon includes a projector’s booth, a relatively new innovation at the time (often required to be fireproof by newer fire codes that were trying to prevent deadly nitrate fires), and a female pianist at the front of the house. I thought it was also interesting that Mabel first signs up for a “Kinome-tograph” job, suggesting that the first part of the movie takes place before the Nickelodeon era.

Mabels Dramatic CareerThis movie actually makes better use of close-ups than most Keystones of the next couple of years, making me wonder if Sennett was trying for a more upscale production. Arbuckle is sort of wasted here, just playing off Sennett’s outrageous behavior, but you can already see his potential (he would be paired with Mabel many times in the future), and Sterling is surprisingly understated, especially in the final scene with Mabel. During the hiring sequence, we got the impression that his intentions were less than noble, but I was surprised that Sterling and Mabel are shown married with children as well – rarely do slapstick comedies allow their characters to progress in a relationship. I did feel that the first part of the movie dragged a bit, in comparison to the sequence in the city, but it sets the stage and gives us a chance to know the characters, which is part of what makes the second part work. This is one of my favorite Sennett-directed pictures so far.

Mabel's_Dramatic_Career_1913Director: Mack Sennett

Camera: unknown

Cast: Mabel Normand, Mack Sennett, Virginia Kirtley, Alice Davenport, Ford Sterling, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle

Run Time: 14 Min

You can watch it for free: here (no music) or here (with somewhat odd music).

Bangville Police (1913)

I hope Lea, over at Silentology, will forgive me from piggy-backing on her review, but she inspired me to watch the movie and now I have to write about it! You should all go check out her blog, either before or after you read my article tonight. Bangville Police

First, for those of you too lazy to read her summary, here’s the basics: Mabel Normand is a young girl living on a farm with her hayseed father and salt-of-the-earth mother. She longs for a newborn calf to make the place more homey. When she hears strange noises in the barn, she sees two men lurking in the shadows and panics. She runs back to the house and calls the sheriff, who’s sound asleep in bed. He fires off some rounds to attract the attention of the local volunteer deputies and sends them off to investigate. Meanwhile, Mabel’s mom has tried to enter the house, but Mabel thinks she’s a burglar and keeps her out. Mom thinks Mabel must be held hostage by burglars and goes off to get dad, all the while Mabel keeps screaming into the phone and the sheriff thinks it must be an Indian attack or a serial killer or something. So, he rounds up every able-bodied man and the police force’s one vehicle (an old roadster like something out of the “Wacky Races”) and rushes to the rescue. Sort of. Actually, the car is much slower than the men running and it ultimately breaks down in a cloud of smoke. Meanwhile, mom and pop have so terrified Mabel that she takes the phone and hides in a closet, after barricading the door. They manage to break through and find Mabel, apparently unharmed. The police show up and appear ready to arrest pop for open-carrying his pistol, but then everyone is charmed by the newborn calf in the barn. The end. All of this, by the way, is communicated in pantomime and just two short Intertitles.

Bangville Police2 Now, this movie gets a lot of attention because of its early use of the “Keystone Kops” (or “Cops”), but that’s only incidental. Only a couple of the volunteers and the sheriff himself have any traditional accoutrements of office, the rest are just yokels with shovels, pitchforks, and rifles. The more “traditional” Keystone Kops movies, like “Fatty Joins the Force,” always take place in urban environments, and they exploit the police-as-authority-figure trope to humorous effect. This one barely scratches that surface. Forgive me, but I think something else is at work here.

Look familiar?

Look familiar?

And, I think I know what it is. Longtime readers who were paying attention might have thought the plot outline sounded…familiar. To spell it out: It’s a very close parody of “The Unseen Enemy” by D.W. Griffith. Mabel Normand even mocks Dorothy Gish’s facial expressions in some shots, and camera set-ups are clear parallels. It should be noted that “The Unseen Enemy” triggered a series of imitations, some even by Griffith himself, including “Death’s Marathon.” Even audiences who hadn’t seen Griffith’s 1912 movie would be familiar by now with the story: a young girl, trapped alone in a house, uses the telephone to summon help, while a race to rescue her is intercut with her increasing peril. Director Henry Lehrman (mostly remembered today for not appreciating Charlie Chaplin’s talents) brilliantly turned that whole concept on its head, and used very different camera- and editing-styles from normal to make the satire work. The close-up was generally reserved for opening and closing shots at Keystone, but he needed it in the middle here. Cross-cutting rarely interrupted the story for more than a few seconds, but he needed to draw out the humorous tension of Mabel trapped by her parents while establishing the characters of the titular law enforcers. Even the car, which is now seen as the most traditionally “Keystone Kop” element in the picture, is there because it is part of the parody; unlike the original, it is slow and unreliable. Note that Lehrman, as well as Mack Sennett the producer, had gotten their start working as actors for Griffith at Biograph.

How about now?

How about now?

An_Unseen_Enemy

The one thing I can’t explain is the whole bit with the calf. Wouldn’t a farm girl know if her cow is pregnant? And who are those two guys in the barn? They didn’t look like vets to me, and I certainly didn’t see them deliver the calf. None of this seems to have anything to do with Griffith, I guess it’s just there because they needed an ending.

Director: Henry Lerhman

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Mabel Normand, Fred Mace, Raymond Hatton, Edgar Kennedy, Ford Sterling, Al St. John, Nick Cogley

Run Time: 8 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

The Water Nymph (1912)

Water Nymph

This was one of the two first movies ever released by Keystone studios – it was released along with “Cohen Collects a Debt” as a split-reel, or a type of early double-feature. It was directed by Mack Sennett and prefigures the Sennett Bathing Beauties that he would later feature to save the studio after Charlie Chaplin and other major talents had left. Mabel Normand has the title role as a young woman who is dating Sennett and wants to get in good with his parents. Mack’s advice is that she go to the beach and “vamp” his dad, who is apparently something of a wolf. Dad is Ford Sterling, who actually carries pretty much all of the comedy in this short. True to form, he flirts outrageously with Mabel, all the while being annoyed by some young guy who won’t leave either of them alone. Mabel gets into a very 1912 swimsuit – absolutely no flesh revealed, apart from forearms, but it does outline her figure, and Ford gets into something utterly ridiculous. There are a couple of dives off a pier, and then they return to the club where Ford discovers his wife got tired of waiting and left. All the better, he thinks, until Mack and mom come up and introduce Mabel as his girl. Ford does his patented “curses, foiled again” bit.

 Water Nymph1

The film is light on slapstick and heavy on situational comedy. The print I was able to see didn’t make faces very clear, but you can tell that Ford’s expressions are key to a lot of the humor. Mack plays everything very broadly, but doesn’t have the natural comedic body language of Sterling. Mabel, on the other hand, is mostly there to look pretty, which she does, but we only see minor flashes of her talent as a comedienne. Her best bits come when scheming with Mack how to fool his dad. Sennett, or his cameraman, economize on setups and editing. Mostly we see everything in a limited number of shots, with the actors generally framed from the waist up. I don’t think we ever cut between two simultaneous events – each shot follows the last one sequentially – except at the very end we see Mack laughing at his father from just out of view at the club.

Alternate Title: “The Beach Flirt”

Director: Mack Sennett

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Mabel Normand, Mack Sennett, Ford Sterling, Gus Pixley

Run Time: 7 Min, 30 seconds

You can watch it for free: here or here.

Gusher, The (1913)

Mabel Normand in 1915.

Mabel Normand in 1915.

This early Keystone short seems to have been built around some stock footage of a burning oil well. Mabel Normand is the classic girl next door, except that in this case she lives next door to an oil field. She is courted by both Charles Inslee (who had roles in “Making a Living” and “His New Job”) and Ford Sterling (Chaplin’s rival in “Between Showers” and “Tango Tangles”). I can certainly understand her distaste for Inslee, with his greasy charm and his penchant for twirling his enormous mustache, but her attraction to the oafish Sterling is a mystery. Anyway, Inslee sells Sterling some bad land in a con, but it suddenly starts gushing oil! So, Normand and Sterling have their wedding at last, but Inslee is not to be outdone. He strikes a match and – whoosh! – the oil goes up in flames. Tinting was used to give the effect of the red fireball against the black smoke and it is quite impressive, especially as Inslee stands in front of it twirling and rubbing his hand in glee. Someone calls in the Keystone Kops, including Mack Swain (later in “The Gold Rush” and “Pay Day” with Chaplin) and Edgar Kennedy, (from “A Flirt’s Mistake” and “Mabel at the Wheel”) but the real denouement is Sterling chasing off the baddy. The fire rages on in the closing shot.

Director: Mack Sennett

Starring: Mabel Normand, Ford Sterling, Charles Inslee, Mack Swain, Edgar Kennedy

Run Time: 14 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Tango Tangles (1914)

Tango_Tangles

AKA: “Charlie’s Recreation”

Charlie Chaplin heads up an impressive cast of Keystone stars (I’m not even going to try to list them all below) in a simple slapstick farce set in a dance hall. He has no mustache, his clothes seem to fit better than they usually would in “Little Tramp” getup, and he only seems a bit drunk at the beginning, when he falls down while dancing with a couple of girls waiting to get in to the hall before trying to give his hat and cane to dance hall patrons. He fights with Ford Sterling and Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle over the hat check girl, Sadie Lampe. We’ve seen all of them in recent reviews. Here, Ford is the band leader and Fatty is the clarinetist, and apparently tremendously strong (at one point he threatens Ford by picking up a dancer and holding him over his head). Just about every other Keystone player shows up in the background, sometimes getting drawn into the fight. Several of the background dancers are in costume, and we see a Keystone Kop dancing with a man in prisoners’ garb. Were “masquerades” common in dance halls at the time, or was that meant to be strange? I don’t know, but two men dancing together surely would have raised eyebrows, outside of a comedy or one of “those” places, I think.

Director: Mack Sennett

Camera: Frank D. Williams

Starring (among others): Charlie Chaplin, Ford Sterling, Roscoe Arbuckle, Sadie Lampe, Minta Durfee, Chester Conklin

Run Time: 12 Min 30 sec

You can watch it for free: here or here.